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oak

What does the Toast Level of a Wine Barrel really mean?

There are many arguments among barrel coopers and winemakers as to what species of oak is best for ageing wine.  While it is true that French/American/Hungarian oaks all impart unique characteristics in wine, perhaps the most important differences between barrels is not the origin of the wood, but rather its level of toast.

wine barrels-wine barrel toast leves

What does the Toast Level of a Barrel really mean?

The toast level refers to how long the barrel is toasted in order to impart certain flavors in your wine. The toast helps caramelize the sugars in the wood. There are 19 different toast levels, however, most winemakers work with Light, Medium, and Heavy toasted barrels.

How are Barrels Toasted?

The coopers use pieces of wood from the stave cutting process and place those into the oak wood fire. It is then set on fire when the barrel is positioned over it, and the toasting process begins. Coopers monitor the temperature closely to prevent any burns or blisters from forming inside of the barrel. The temperature is also key to getting the toast level correct. Then the master coopers will check for any imperfections and update the barrel accordingly.

What does Light Toast mean?

Lightly toasted oak barrels or oak chips usually impart sweet and creamy characteristics. Light toast usually works best with white wines such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Chenin Blanc.

Sweet Characteristics:

  • Brown Sugar
  • Bourbon
  • Cotton Candy
  • Chocolate
  • Maple Syrup
  • Butterscotch
  • Hot Fudge
  • Caramel
  • Molasses
  • Honey
  • Toffee
  • Soy

Creamy Characteristics:

  • Vanilla
  • Cream Soda
  • Marshmallow
  • Lactic
  • Butter

American Oak Light Toast Chips

French Oak Light Toast Chips

What does Medium Toast mean?

Medium toasted barrels and other oak products impart more yeasty, nutty, and lightly roasted flavors. Medium toasted oak usually works best for red wines such as Red Blends, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel, Carignane, Syrah, Pinot Noir, and Petite Sirah.

Yeasty:

  • Popcorn
  • Baked Bread
  • Bread Stick
  • Cookie Dough

Nutty:

  • Hazelnut
  • Walnut
  • Almond
  • Peanut Butter
  • Coconut

Roasted:

  • Cedar
  • Graham Cracker
  • Toasted Bread
  • Coffee
  • Mocha
  • Cereal

American Oak Medium Toast Chips

French Oak Medium Toast Chips

What does Heavy Toast mean?

Heavier toasted barrels and oak infusions usually impart more bold smoky and spicy characteristics. Heavily toasted oak is used for most fortified wines like Port, Sherry, Brandy, and Cognac. However, some winemakers are playing around with heavier toasts by leaving the wine in the barrel for short periods of time. This way they impart the flavors they desire without over oaking their wine.

Smoky:

  • Barbecue
  • Grilled Meat
  • Bacon
  • Sweet Smoke
  • Burnt Sugar

Spicy:

  • Nutmeg
  • Cinnamon
  • Clove
  • Licorice
  • Anise

American Oak Heavy Toast Chips

French Oak Heavy Toast Chips

So not only can the oak impart flavors, but your toast levels do matter! Think of them as a part of your “Winemaker’s Spice Cabinet”. Just another touch that can bring in and impart more complex flavors.

The Winemaker’s Think Tank: Vol 24 – 5 Cost Effective Tips to Help you Save Money in Your Winemaking

What’s the Winemaker’s Think Tank?

Every Thursday we will post about a few frequently asked questions that our winemaker has answered. If you have a winemaking question you would like to have answered, please email us at support@juicegrape.com and we will try to get into next week’s post. Cheers! 🙂

Red wine from good grapes is fermented very nice

Cost Effective Tips to Help you Save Money in Your Winemaking

1. Alternative Varietals – Most winemakers aspire to make a big, bold Cabernet Sauvignon or supple Merlot. While these grapes make excellent world class wine, they are not the only varietals that can give you these results. Call your grape supplier and ask for a list of varietals that they can source for you. Do some research on lesser known varietals such as Carignane, Cinsault, Grenache, or Gamay. Perhaps making one of these varietals in the style of your preferred varietal, will yield some satisfactory, and more cost effective results.

2. Reusing Barrels Safely and Effectively – Barrels contribute two factors to wine: oak flavor and a round mouthfeel. While the first few vintages aged in the barrel will be bursting with oak flavor, over time, the oak flavor will dissipate from the barrel, rendering it neutral. While the barrel may not be able to contribute a lot of flavor to the wine, it will still add an important reductive character through micro-oxidation. Wine will still continue to evaporate out of the barrel and yield a creamier, smoother mouthfeel. If the winemaker desires more oak flavor, oak may be added to the barrel in the form of chips, staves, spirals, or cubes. This method will allow the winemaker to keep using the barrel for many vintages, rather than replacing them when the oak flavor diminishes.

3. Oak Alternatives – Barrels have much of the visual “romance” associated with winemaking, however they can be a very costly investment. For a new home winemaker making smaller batches, it may not even be feasible to get a small enough barrel. Rather than putting the wine into a barrel, why not put the “barrel” into the wine? Oak is now available toasted in the same way a barrel would be and in a variety of forms and sizes. In each form, it will deliver oak flavor to the wine, some shapes having more surface area and acting more quickly, whereas other shapes may take longer to infuse flavor. These are a very cost effective and efficient way of imparting oak flavor to wine.

4. Involve Friends – As your home winemaking progresses, often times winemakers want more sophisticated processing and analytic equipment. While a Destemmer/Crusher or a Bladder Press may last you many years, it is a costly initial investment. One way to help defray the cost of the equipment is to purchase it with other winemakers. If you have friends who also make wine or can network through a wine appreciation society, you can find other vintners who may be willing to split the cost of the machines with you. This can turn crushing and pressing into a party! Not only will the cost be divided, but so will the labor. Another way to try and reduce the cost of equipment is to try and purchase used equipment. Keep an eye on Craig’s List and wine classifieds for pieces of equipment someone wants to part with. Also, a local winery may have some equipment that they no longer use as they have scaled up and they jump at an opportunity to sell it rather than allowing it to collect dust.

5. Increase Production – As with many item in life, buying in bulk is more cost effective. Speak with your local grape broker to see if they offer volume discounts. If you have formed a winemaking group to share equipment costs, then perhaps you can get a better price on grapes if you purchase together, rather than separately. The same idea applies to corks and bottles. Buying larger quantities, provided you have adequate storage space, will save you money.

We hope this information helps with your winemaking. If you have any follow up questions or winemaking questions in general, please email us at support@juicegrape.com.

The Winemaker’s Think Tank: Vol 21 – Do I need a barrel to make wine? Can I just use tanks/glass?

Collection of wine, rum, beer classical wooden barrels

What’s the Winemaker’s Think Tank?

Every Thursday we will post about a few frequently asked questions that our winemaker has answered. If you have a winemaking question you would like to have answered, please email us at support@juicegrape.com and we will try to get into next week’s post. Cheers! 🙂

Do I need a barrel to make wine? Can I just use tanks/glass?

american oak chips

Most aspiring winemakers hold romantic visions of putting their wine in a barrel, tasting it periodically with loved ones, waiting until the magical moment it tastes perfect, and is ready to bottle. While there are benefits of barrel aging wines, it is not required to create a dry wine with oak flavors. Juice may be fermented in barrels, tanks, carboys, or pails. While the oak will add certain flavor characteristics and “sacrificial tannins” to the wine during fermentation, the winemaker can add oak dust, chips, or staves to create a similar effect. Furthermore, during the aging process, oak chips, spirals, staves, balls, cubes, etc. can be added to the wine to give it a pleasant oaked flavor. This is ideal for the home winemaker as it is more cost effective and often requires less time than traditional barrel aging. When wine is aged in a barrel, some of the wine evaporates out of the barrel, often referred to as the “angel’s share”. This results in a more concentrated, creamy mouthfeel as well as an oaked flavor. The wine within the barrel must be maintained as the evaporation will cause an air gap in the barrel (headspace), which can promote oxidation.  Spare wine must be kept in a separate container to be used to top off the barrel to minimize this headspace. In summary, barrel can add a beautiful finesse and flavor to your homemade wine, but are not crucial to home winemaking success.

We hope this information helps with your winemaking. If you have any follow up questions or winemaking questions in general, please email us at support@juicegrape.com.

Oak Additions Video Up on Youtube!

Hello Winemakers!

We are excited to release our newest video. In the video Winemaker Frank Renaldi goes over all the different Oak opportunities available to winemakers.